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Ko - production in Busan
  • An interview with CHOI Jin-seong, director of I AM.: SMTOWN LIVE WORLD TOUR in Madison Square Garden
  • by KIM Seong-hoon /  Apr 25, 2012
  •     

    “Is CHOI really making a film about pop idols?” It surprised the Korean film scene that CHOI Jin-seong was making I AM.: SMTOWN LIVE WORLD TOUR in Madison Square Garden (A.K.A., I AM.), a documentary following K-pop idols Girl’s Generation, SHINee, TVXQ, f(x), Super Junior and BoA, co-produced by CJ E&M and SM Entertainment with a sizeable budget of USD 1.5 million.
     
    It’s a rather natural response from people who knew CHOI by his filmography; he has always been interested in revealing aspects of Korean society that have been marginalized by the country’s strong waves of economic development, with previous works including FuckUmentary (2001), Camellia Project (2004), Reservoir Dogs Take 1: South-han River (with Windy City) (2010), Reservoir Dogs Take 2: Nakdong River (with Bard & Jung Mina) (2011) and Jam Docu GANGJUNG (2011).
     
    The director’s answer to the question, however, is simple: “It is all about my concern for contemporariness, whether it is the reckless development of the Four Major Rivers Project, the controversy surrounding Jeju’s Gangjung Village, or pop idols.” Owing to the strong wave of K-Pop abroad, I AM. is already being pre-sold to South-east Asian territories before its release in May.
     
    KOBIZ: How was the project started?
    CHOI: SM made a huge hit with its ‘SM Town Live in Paris’ concert in June, 2011. It was the first concert proving that the K-Pop wave goes beyond South-east Asia. SM artists also did another successful stage show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in November of that year. Wanting a record of this success, SM proposed that CJ E&M make a documentary, and that’s when I was offered to be a part of the project. I said yes right away.
     
    KOBIZ: How could you be so sure that you wanted to?
    CHOI: The film was about 32 artists from seven different SM teams. That is a huge number. It sounded like quite a job and it triggered my creativity. I proposed with only one condition for both companies: my documentary would not focus on each team, but each one of the 32 individual artists as human beings.
     
    KOBIZ: 32 characters for one film? Isn’t that too many?
    CHOI: It is. Anyway, it’s not Ocean’s Eleven (laugh). For the NYC concert, I had 20 cameras for stage footage and an additional 9 for backstage scenes in order to follow all of them around. Along with the cameras, I gave smartphones to every artist and asked them to shoot their own footage. I also asked only one thing of all the cameramen: While shooting, do not ask any questions like “How do you feel?” or “Are you okay?”, like they do for TV entertainment shows. Just follow them around.
     
    KOBIZ: So familiar with being on camera, idols might not want to participate in such a documentary.
    CHOI: Right. They are professionals. I only gave them the basic concept and general set-up. That’s all I had to do and they were perfect. What interested me was individual interviews. They usually appear as a team on TV or on stage. Some are quite active talkers while others are rather quiet and feel awkward when individually interviewed. The basic question to all of them was ‘Who are you? - like, what is the difference between Tae-yeon of Girl’s Generation and KIM Tae-yeon the human being?’ I wanted each of them to discuss the topic of identity and their own ideas of self.
     
    KOBIZ: Overall, what do you want to pull from these 32 artists’ conversations about identity?
    CHOI: I hoped it would be a film about growing-up, like Billy Elliot. I must show that these kids are not successful overnight, but their work only bears fruit after long periods of work and other hardships. They are too easily regarded as replaceable commodities, but I realized they are not, and I needed to say that. When SM proposed the project, I asked them for all the of the groups’ footage from the past 15 years: recorded auditions, practices, TV appearances and self-shot videos. I watched about 5,000 tapes with eight different crews and inserted some of that found footage into the final cut.
     
    KOBIZ: What is your next project?
    CHOI: It’s not fixed yet, but it will likely be with CJ E&M.
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